Last Friday night a group of about 75 adults and children gathered at the Roger Barkley Community Center. They had two main things in common: they all love their La Cañada community and are all members of the Islamic faith.
This was the first meeting of the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge, a newly formed congregation whose purpose is to get to know other Muslim families, support their community, be a presence within the La Cañada charitable organizations and to be more active in the political area. They also, according to member Levent Akbarut, want to reach out to the community as Muslims to educate others and to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between Muslims and other religions. He quoted ICLCF’s mission statement:
“To strengthen the bonds of Islamic fellowship at the neighborhood level and to develop a Muslim presence in the city through outstanding citizenship and community service promoting peace and mutual understanding.”
Akbarut said, “This concept is so important. According to a recent poll only ten percent of those who say they personally know someone who is Muslim say they would not want a Muslim as a neighbor. That is a 21 percent gap of those who do not know a Muslim.”
He was citing an August USA Today/Gallup Poll that focused on U.S. attitudes toward Muslims living in the United States. The poll found that 22 percent of Americans questioned would not like to have a Muslim as a neighbor, however there was a considerable difference in attitudes toward Muslims if there is a personal acquaintance. The ten percent Akbarut mentioned is in comparison with 31 percent of those who are not acquainted, thus the 21 percent gap in views.
"[Reaching out] is important with what is going on in the media with perceptions and terrorism and everything,” he said.
“There is a general misunderstanding in the media [of the Muslim faith],” said Faisal Khan, member of ICLCF. “Our kids are in the local schools, we are involved in the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation and other charities.”
He added that in addition to helping the community he hopes that the congregation will be a way for all Muslim families to get to know and support each other.
Also attending this first meeting was LCF Mayor Greg Brown and state Assemblymember Anthony Portantino.
“On my way here tonight I counted at least eight different congregations. It is my pleasure to welcome yours [to La Cañada],” Brown said. “La Cañada is built on volunteerism, it is great that you are going in that direction.”
The congregation had asked Brown and Portantino for suggestions on charitable organizations and committees they could get involved with. Brown suggested many, including the schools.
“A large part of our city’s success is because of our schools,” Brown said.
Many members of the congregation have or have had children in the La Cañada public school system. They are personally active members of the schools however welcomed the suggestion as a congregation to become involved.
“I applaud your efforts to get together,” Portantino said. “To know your neighbors, there is nothing better.”
Portantino also added that he would be happy to sponsor any adult interested in the Kiwanis Club and that he understood how preconceived ideas can affect a community.
“One thing that I have learned over the last 30 years is there is a perception of La Cañada being a closed community,” Portantino said.
He added that he had been asked in a recent interview by a Los Angeles newspaper how he could be the mayor of such a racist community. “I said, ‘Well, I am an Italian from New Jersey. I don’t exactly fit the profile of La Cañada.’”
The symbol of the ICLCF, a tree with sweeping branches and leaves reaching out, was designed with the thought of the community and the congregation’s purpose. Ozman Trad, a professional graphic designer, began his design with the community in mind.
“The first thing I wanted was to represent the La Cañada community,” Trad said. “The community coming together, forming the branches....I used stylized Arabic calligraphy [that is the symbol for God] that forms the trunk of the tree. The root of our work is God.”
When asked what he hoped this congregation will accomplish, third grader Osama Zulfigar said, “I hope it helps them [non-Muslims] understand us.”
“And a lot about our country America,” added his brother Hasoan.
Information on the ISCLCF can be found on their website at wwwiclcf.org.